DAR TV: Family Matters

Introduction By @TrueGodImmortal
-There are some shows that truly are middle of the road... dwelling firmly between classic and horrible. If I had to say anything about the Jaleel White powered sitcom that premiered in 1989, I would say that it had some great moments and some terrible moments. I'd lean more towards it having terrible moments, if only for the fact that most of the dialogue and characters came off completely cheesy and a tad bit corny (long live Eddie Winslow). However, the nights we got welcomed into the home of the Winslow family always remained must see TV on the ABC network during the duration of its time on the channel. While Family Matters wasn't Martin or Fresh Prince, it did provide a nice family element for black sitcoms and was likely the closest glimpse into the reality of a suburban black family within the middle class that we've seen in general (time machines and robots aside). Today, we look back at Family Matters and the legacy of the show, whether good or bad, or both.

Is this a WIRTB? Eh, maybe. Maybe not. Let's see how I feel at the end. Now, Family Matters is a spinoff from the 1980s sitcom Perfect Strangers. It featured a no-nonsense mother, a well-meaning father, and kids that were straight out of Jet Magazine's wet dreams for how "modern" Black families should be (no, we won't talk Jaimie Foxworth doing porn IRL; no point). They weren't as hokey as the Cosby clan, but weren't as "still-within-their-roots" as, say, the Banks. Essentially, they were a happy middle ground for if you didn't want Bill Cosby (ugh) and Raven-Symone in your black sitcoms, but also weren't quite ready for Martin Lawrence and Will Smith.

The adventures the Winslow family went on were typical sitcom affair...most of the time. When the stories were grounded, you had a decent show. Even if it was cornier than Corn Pops with Corn Flakes and a side of cornbread. But, for me, the series ended up getting WIRTB-like whenever Steve Urkel was on the scene. Yes, he was a comedic foil for the family, but that didn't stop him from irking the beehayzeus out of me. And don't even get me started on Stefan.

Actually, nah. Let's talk Stefan. Let's talk this hokey-ass, hackneyed-ass, bullshit-ass, wannabe Nutty Professor-ass subplot. See, Steve Urkel is your typical TV uber nerd. And what do most uber nerds, per 1990s sitcom conventions, want? They want to be cool. So, Steve concocts this machine that turns him into a "suave ladies' man" so he can talk with his super-crush, Laura Winslow.

It's as mindmeltingly off-the-wall as you think it is.

And let's not even begin to talk about the final seasons. The seasons when people started leaving, Steve was sent to space because reasons (reminds me of the final episodes of Grounded for Life), and Eddie got shot as a cop. Yeah, I know, CBS saved the show from being canceled to give fans proper resolutions/stories in that final season. But, why couldn't they have just let the thing die?

Full House was a bigger show and it died a (somewhat) dignified death in its finale. Somewhat. Family Matters, though? Nope. So, if I had to say if the series was bad, I'd say yes. But, even within its WIRTB territory, there's something about its cheesiness that keeps me from completely ripping it to shreds. Check it out, prepare yourself for cheese (especially because Steve loves cheese), and enjoy it for what it is: a 1980s/1990s look at a middle-class, Black, Chicago family that loved each other and solved most of their problems in a way that'd make Danny Tanner blush with embarrassment.

As much as I’m a fan of ’90’s music, I'm equally a fan of 90’s TV sitcoms. They all seemed to use different characters, different family dynamics and upbringing to address topics that were pertinent at the time. Whether it was Moesha, Fresh Prince, Wayans Bros, Martin, A Different World, etc....they all dealt with relationships, peer pressure, sibling issues and whatever else could come up amongst families/friends. One show that often gets forgotten is Family Matters, it's always been a show that people either really enjoyed or absolutely couldn't stand. It was corny at times (much like any sitcom), but overall the characters, the friendships, the relationships and entire dynamic served its purpose. It kept us 90's kids entertained and provided some relatable situations that we understood and connected with.

Today a couple of us DAR writers get to discuss our favorite and/or not so favorite aspects of the show. Personally, I kinda loved this show, it was part of my daily line up of after school sitcoms. Let me take you through the episodes that stuck out for me.

As typical as the Winslow family was (mom, dad, a jock son, a beautiful popular daughter and the live in grandmother and of course the annoying neighbor), I liked and appreciated their dynamic. Carl and Harriett had a great marriage with minor issues along the way that were always resolved by communication. The situations that Eddie and Laura dealt with in school and with friends were absolutely hilarious and of course Steve Urkel, the epitome and over the top lovesick nerd who was overly in love with the "popular" girl added just enough drama to keep things interesting. And who can forget the famous tagline "did I do that?" after some avoidable catastrophe. Needless to say, each complimented one another and carried the show for its 9 season "lifespan", which takes me in to my favorite episodes.

I started watching Family Matters in the third season, and of course reruns filled in the gaps, but to me it was a great starting point. I had enough episodes to gain an understanding of each character and what they really added to the mix. After watching a couple years worth of dorky Steve professing his undying love for Laura while she dismissed him without a second thought, my favorite episode would be in Season 5 (Ep. 8) when Steve drinks a "cool genes potion" he invented after Laura told him he needs to change...and suddenly he becomes Stefan Urquelle. His charming, smooth and confident demeanor was so (intentionally) different than Steve and such a huge change that viewers were equally in awe. The way he was introduced was dope but short lived. Stefan ended up being such a jerk that it highlighted how great Steve was. It was a clever way to show the "it's what's on the inside that counts" concept. What we wouldn't know was that the season 5 finale would bring Stefan back and of course would be my second favorite episode. The writers did a pretty good job of reintroducing Stefan Urquelle, but this time with a transformation chamber. Is it corny? Yes! But it fits Steve's character to be that over the top for Laura. They tweaked Stefan's personality and he comes back better than ever: a good looking, charming smooth talker with an incredibly nice personality. Of course, the transformation wears off and everything goes back to normal but what a dope way to end the season.

That leaves 2 more episodes that I absolutely love, and that is the Season 6 opener. It was a 2 part episode that incorporates the same time machine, Stefan Urquelle AND changes Carl Winslow in to "Car Urkel", which of course was entertaining to say the least.

There you have it. My personal favorite episodes that kept me a fan of the show. Family Matters was a good, wholesome and incredibly entertaining show. '90's sitcoms were intended to be relatable and shed light on relevant matters that kids were dealing with at the time. It did that, with characters we liked watching and by incorporating lighthearted humor. Was the show perfect? Absolutely not, but it was good enough to be in the after school "must see" lineup!!

Outro By @TrueGodImmortal
-Now, I have my things that I like about the show. I was a huge fan of Myra, and didn't understand why Urkel would go for a less fun, boring, and seemingly "cooler" Laura, instead of the more understanding and loving Myra, but that's one part of the show I hated. They made Laura some form of treasure for Steve, and after some terrible treatment from her, changing up his entire personality and look, and numerous other ridiculous things, he finally won her over. Something about that always bothered me. For 9 seasons, the Laura and Urkel saga really made no sense and was probably my worst thing about the show because it also spawned Stefan, time chambers, and a number of other unnecessary moments during the show's tenure. I always thought Eddie Winslow was a slightly relatable character for most teenage dudes, though he had his corny moments. My favorite thing about the show? Honestly the theme song. I know, this might sound a bit strange, but the theme song is infectious and hilarious In the same regard and literally was something I looked forward to when I watched the sitcom. Come to think of it, it might have been the only reason I kept watching it for the most part. Regardless, whether you loved Family Matters or hated it, it has a place in television history and was successful for some years until it all began to falter near the end. The CBS move to "save the show" was ill advised and though it gave clarity and a proper end to the show in a way, that season is beyond awful. Out of 9 seasons, I'd say there were about 3 or 4 quality seasons overall at best. Did I love Family Matters? No. Did I hate it? No. Was it really that bad? Yes and no. As I said in the beginning, Family Matters is a middle of the road sitcom. Some loved it, some hated it, some were indifferent, but there's not a majority verdict on the show like say with a classic such as Cosby Show, Martin, or Fresh Prince. That doesn't take away from the success of the show, it's just the reality about where the show stands in black sitcom and 90s sitcom history.



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